If the Phillies were going to write a book about the first two games of the World Series thus far, “The Audacity of Dope” would be an apt title (my apologies for the lame pun). With runners in scoring position, they couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a friggin’ boat.
Saturday night was a bad night, especially if you live near Philadelphia and your cable provider is Comcast. Not only was it cold and rainy for most of the day, but throughout the broadcast, from start to finish, both the audio and video feeds would hesitate or freeze altogether. Before Jamie Moyer got out of the fourth inning (around 11:45ish), my cable froze. I went out for about a half hour and listened to the broadcast on my car radio. The cable feed still hadn’t unfrozen when I returned, so I missed the Utley and Howard home runs, as well as the controversial call at first base by umpire Tom Hallion. Thanks, Comcast!
Yes, Hallion’s incorrect call directly led to two runs for the Rays, and indirectly to another. To start off the seventh inning, up 4-1, Jamie Moyer got Carl Crawford to hit a weak chopper down the first base line. Moyer made an extraordinary play and flipped to Howard. Replays showed that the flip was indeed in time, but Hallion called Crawford safe. Dioner Navarro promptly hit a double to put runners on second and third with no outs. As has been the case with the Rays all series long, they knocked in those runs with ground outs.
Now, I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I want to take this opportunity to direct my readers to my outrageously good forecasting (please ignore the fact that before the season, I picked the Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies to appear in the World Series). On a FanGraphs blog, I left the following comment:
I think the key to the series is speed. The Phillies’ catchers, contrary to popular opinion, haven’t been good defensively. Bartlett, Crawford, and Upton can all steal bases with abandon. On the other hand, Dioner Navarro was the best at throwing out base stealers in the AL, so the running game of Rollins, Victorino, and Werth may be shut down[...]
It was 4-3 going into the eighth inning with Ryan Madson on the hill when B.J. Upton stole the show. With a big hole up the middle, Upton hit a chopper — you guessed it, up the middle — that Rollins had to range to his left to get, and Upton barely crossed the first base bag in time. Considering Upton’s speed, it’s a wonder Rollins ever made it a close play.
After Carlos Pena struck out and Evan Longoria came to the plate, Upton put his legs to work. He stole second base easily, and didn’t waste too much time attempting to steal third. Carlos Ruiz tried to throw him out but his throw was low, hit the dirt, and skidded away from third baseman Pedro Feliz into foul territory, allowing Upton to score the tying run.
In the Phillies’ half of the eighth, Jayson Werth worked a lead-off walk to bring up Chase Utley. Werth stole second base, but Utley couldn’t drive him in, instead choosing to chase a 3-2 low and outside curveball to strike out. With one out and presumably trying to put the go-ahead run on third base for a fly ball-happy Ryan Howard, Werth was taking aggressive leads off of second base. The Rays noticed this, and had pitcher J.P. Howell keep an eye on him. After Howard fouled off the first pitch, Howell threw over to second base to keep Werth close. Werth didn’t shorten his lead and instead became even more aggressive. Howell threw over again and Werth was nailed for the first out. Howard eventually struck out to end the inning.
J.C. Romero pitched a perfect ninth to give the Phillies the final at-bat before extra innings. Eric Bruntlett got hit by a 2-1 fastball from Howell, bringing up Shane Victorino to face new pitcher Grant Balfour. Victorino took a strike after showing bunt. He became more aggressive in his bunt attempt on the second pitch, but it was inside — too far inside. Catcher Navarro missed it, and it hit the bricks behind home plate, a favorable carom for the Rays. Bruntlett raced towards second. Navarro spun and threw to second base, but it was wide and bounced into center field, allowing Bruntlett to motor to third base, putting the winning run 90 feet away.
Manager Joe Maddon ordered Balfour to intentionally walk Victorino, then Greg Dobbs (who pinch-hit for Feliz) to bring up Carlos Ruiz. To add to the strategy, he ordered right fielder Ben Zobrist to come in to the infield to increase the probability of making a play at home on a ground ball.
With the pitcher’s spot on deck and Matt Stairs inevitably due up, Balfour attacked Ruiz with 94-96 MPH fastballs. Ruiz fouled off two and took two balls, forcing Balfour to throw pitches. On the sixth pitch, Ruiz hit a chopper down the third base line. Longoria made a good effort but there’s almost no way he could have gotten Bruntlett for the force out at home plate, so the Phillies won in epic fashion despite more offensive futility.
To illustrate how much the fate of the game hung in the balance, here’s a recap of the biggest swings in Win Expectancy, courtesy FanGraphs:
- Carlos Ruiz solo home run in the second inning to put the Phillies ahead 2-1. (WE: +10.9% for the Phillies)
- Chase Utley solo home run in the sixth inning to increase the Phillies’ lead to 3-1. (WE: +10.4% for the Phillies)
- Dioner Navarro double in the seventh inning to put runners on second and third with no outs. (WE: -11.9% for the Phillies)
- B.J. Upton steals third base and scores on Ruiz’s throwing error. (WE: -14.9% for the Phillies)
- Jayson Werth gets picked off of second base in the eighth inning. (WE: -12.7% for the Phillies)
- Eric Bruntlett advances to second base, then to third base on the wild pitch by Grant Balfour and the throwing error by Navarro. (WE: +21.9% for the Phillies)
The Phillies find themselves up two games to one with four games left, two at home with Cole Hamels scheduled for Game 5. Despite the inefficient offense, you’ve got to feel good about their chances to win two out of the next four games. The audacity of hope, right?